Revised Undergraduate Experience Survey Highlights Multifaceted Nature of Student Success

Framework for survey developed at the University of California, Riverside

A photo of Steven Brint, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Steven Brint, vice provost of undergraduate education.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( —The University of California system and a consortium of research universities in the U.S., Europe and Asia have changed the way they evaluate the educational experiences of their undergraduate students.

Launched this spring, the revised version of the University of California’s Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) broadens how universities measure their contributions to student development by placing more emphasis on experiences that occur outside the classroom. The survey is administered to students at the nine UC campuses offering undergraduate programs. It is also given to students at 15 other Association of American Universities (AAU) members and 11 international partners, where it is administered as the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey.

The framework for the new survey was proposed by Steven Brint, vice provost of undergraduate education at UC Riverside and co-chair of a committee charged with updating and streamlining the existing tool. Brint co-chaired the committee with Ronald Huesman Jr., managing director of the SERU-AAU Consortium.

To highlight the multi-faceted role universities play in developing students, Brint proposed a new framework focusing on five purposes of an undergraduate education: social skills development, personal development, academic skills development, civic engagement, and economic opportunity and security. A sixth facet focuses on the campus settings that facilitate these goals. The first letters of the six facets form the word ‘spaces.’ The ‘SPACES’ model is described in an essay written by Brint and published in October by the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) at UC Berkeley.

While students’ academic experiences, such as evaluating evidence and comparing explanatory perspectives, remain at the center of the survey, Brint said the committee agreed to broaden the definition of how universities contribute to student development.

“Many students say that they gain experience in how to chair meetings and plan events through students clubs and organizations. These are examples of skills that are developed outside of the classroom but incredibly important in the real world,” Brint said.

While the National Survey of the Student Experience (NSSE), the leading alternative to the SERU survey, continues to focus more exclusively on academic development, Brint said the SERU survey is a better fit for public research universities like those that are members of the SERU Consortium.

“A central mission of public research universities is to meet the needs of the communities they serve, so we do need to ask if we’re doing a good job not only in helping students to develop their cognitive skills, but also in other areas such as preparing students to be active citizens and effective organizational leaders,” Brint said.

Formed in 2008, the SERU Consortium includes 15 Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions, including the University of Minnesota, which manages and administers the SERU survey. All campuses of the University of California are also part of the SERU Consortium. UCUES, UC’s version of the survey, is administered through UC’s Office of the President. With thousands of respondents at each institution, the survey allows educators and administrators to evaluate the educational experiences not only of the student body as a whole, but of small but important subpopulations, such as veterans and under-represented students in science fields.

Representatives from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, Texas A&M University, the University of Pittsburgh, Purdue University, and the University of Texas-Austin served on the SERU Design and Content Workshop, which was tasked with updating the survey.

Brint said the University of Virginia will be the first SERU Consortium member to administer the new survey, on February 8, with the other universities rolling it out in spring.


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